Global Visionaries: How it began and how it flourished

In 1992, a group of high-school students, facilitated by public school teachers Joe Fontana and Chris Fontana, set out to bring the youth of the world together to find a way to bring about a more peaceful and just society. The student-organized Youth Environmental Summits that took place in 1993 and 1995 made this dream a reality. The 1995 Summit alone brought together more than 300 high-school students from 32 countries and 40 states for one week to learn about environmental issues, peace theories, leadership skills and positive activism.

One of the student organizers of the Summits was Jason Foster. Having learned from that experience to dream big, he left his home town of Loveland, Colorado after graduating high-school to broaden his horizons, travelling to over 40 countries. In 1996, he spent the summer studying Spanish in Guatemala. While impressed by the excellent language instruction and opportunities for cultural immersion there, he noticed that most of the students at the Spanish schools in Guatemala were, like him, college students or young adults. The Youth Environmental Summits had shown him that high school students could be mature enough to push past their comfort zones and often even more committed and willing than adults to break down inter-cultural barriers. Putting these ideas together, the dream of creating a language and cultural immersion program with a focus on service, aimed specifically at high school students, was born. Jason reached out to his former teacher (and Youth Summit facilitator) Joe Fontana and in early 1997, and together they founded Global Visionaries, first incorporating it in Colorado.

Joe and Jason led the first four GV trips together from 1997 to 1999. On one of those trips, Joe met his future wife Anna. On another, Jason’s fiancée Amy Morgan joined as a trip leader. The two were to be married in less than a month and the kids on the trip voted in the courtyard of the Spanish school whether they should make their last name Morgan-Foster or Foster-Morgan; the first option won by one vote and a month later at their wedding it was made official (both Amy and Jason had liked the second option better, but GV has always been true to its democratic ideals).

In 1999, Joe’s brother Chris joined the GV team, bringing the first contingent of kids from Seattle. At the end of that year, when Jason announced he would be leaving GV to pursue a career in international law, Chris was a natural successor. In 2003, Chris incorporated GV as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization in the State of Washington, and a whole new era of GV began. Since then, over 3500 youth have participated in the program in Seattle and Guatemala; 47 homes, schools and community centers have been built and over 37,000 new trees planted in Guatemala. Through this entire time, GV has remained true to its original ideals that youth are often even more willing and able than adults to break down intercultural barriers, leading to lasting, meaningful change in their own communities and across the globe.